Local judges must use caution in MVSD issue

Ohio Auditor David Yost has raised questions about the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District’s plan to refund some $5 million to the cities of Niles, Youngstown and McDonald, in part because of what the water district’s Secretary / Treasurer Alan Tatalovich pointed out in a December letter.

That caution must also be carried on by the local judges that oversee financial matters at the district before the refunds are allowed to take place.

Yost said Tatolovich’s letter pointed out these items:

The district has more than $38.7 million in outstanding loans and some $9.15 million in unpaid bonds; it continues to experience “major and ongoing expense to its water purification plant built in 1926 and the rehabilitation or replacement of obsolete infrastructure vital to the purification of water is a major challenge to management”; and the MVSD anticipates the “probable designation of critical non-discretionary capital improvement to the very important dam and spillway project.”

At the same time, the MVSD is planning to maintain, at least temporarily, the use of a high-paid consulting firm to overlap the Oct. 1 start date of its newly hired chief engineer, who will be earning about $128,000 a year.

Among the new engineer’s first projects will be overseeing multimillion dollar repairs to the dam at Meander Reservoir.

With all this in the offing, we still aren’t exactly sure why the MVSD is so eager to return the $5 million in funds to the member cities.

The judges in the court of jurisdiction, the body charged with overseeing fiscal issues at the district including water rates, should continue to maintain the caution they have exhibited and move slowly in deciding whether to approve plans to give back money.

If it’s determined the funds can be returned, we suggest next taking a closer look at exactly who receives the potential windfall.

Since the court of jurisdiction and the MVSD have no control over the deals these member cities have struck with the communities like Girard, Austintown, Boardman, Weathersfield and many others to which they sell water, it may be more logical to look at a reducing the cost to the member cities, with the hope — and public encouragement — that each passes these savings on to their users, including those that buy the bulk water from them.

Certainly, reduced water rates would be a welcomed opportunity by customers frequently pinched by inflation and high utility bills.